Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Exercising For Life

On the occasion of the recent death of Arthur Jones, creator of the Nautilus machines, I received a communication from my old friend Dr. Ken Leistner, now regarded as the best writer on continuing the ideas in that vein of High Intensity Training -- usually with highly motivated world-class athletes. Such people self-select and pride themselves on their ability to withstand extreme workloads -- which without the proper motivation and support system, will not be sustained by most individuals on their own.

Ken was aware that I also perfected my own version of the high-intensity workout back in the early ‘70s -- on the inspiration of the Nautilus “principles,” which early on, Jones insisted was the only requirement for achieving optimal training results, with no need for special equipment. I established various training projects to actually verify those claims -- independently.

That’s a very important concept and feature of real science -- independent testing, which obviously, Jones or anybody connected with him could not do. That was a tremendous flaw in most of the claims connected with exercise -- that it was simply one person’s conjectures to which they created alter-egos with pretentious and misleading names of legitimacy and credibility, that “proved” everything they claimed was true. The Aerobics Institute, which “proved” everything Dr. Kenneth Cooper said about aerobic exercise, was simply Dr. Kenneth Cooper himself, and not some truly independent research body doing any rigorous testing -- particularly to disprove his hypotheses. And in fact, these entities existed for the sole purpose of this self-promotion.

But the most outrageous of such self-promoters were the Weider brothers, who claimed every idea on exercise, was thought up exclusively by themselves, and verified by the impartial and highly esteemed Weider Research Institute -- in the magazines they published that did much to publicize the bodybuilding world and establish their own place at the top of it It wasn’t surprising that many lent their “names” to such testimonials because the devotees of weight-training were usually people residing on the margins of society by which they could justify anything -- as long as they could perpetuate their own self-promotional delusions.

Later came the "certifying" entities, that actually prohibited any of their publications from being revealed to anybody else, except for the purpose of obtaining their certifications -- as though they were a highly top-secret organization that was charged with the trust of perpetuating mankind’s greatest secrets, or at least their own proprietary knowledge -- which usually turned out to be, all the wives tales, propagated by the previous physical education teachers. The key to their success, was the belief that making somebody feel terrible, was good for them in some miraculous way.

The amazing thing is that those who self-select for such onerous treatment, don’t find it abusive, but actually are the rare exceptions who truly enjoy it -- because it is their thing. But it is not necessarily everybody’s thing, or works for everybody, which is what every individual has to ultimately determine for themselves.

So I was not surprised to learn that Ken was still training basically the same way he did as a young man, as his barometer of fitness and viability, which is a common standard. I informed him of the eye-opening experiences I had had working with terminally and hopelessly disabled people, and was inspired to create exercise for that segment of the population as the most meaningful and urgent -- and realized that the universal principles that worked for the weakest, also worked for the strongest -- but vice-versa was not true, yet that was the widely-accepted model of thinking in this field.

That -- is the shocking revelation -- and the breakthrough idea I claim, and can be demonstrated in every venue, circumstances and condition by those who simply think deeply and quietly on their own -- if such a thing is still possible anymore.

But when one turns the whole fitness paradigm upside-down, the last become the first -- but first, they have to think in that simple actuality, and not reinforce the manner in which they cannot win and have no hope.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Real Value of Variable Resistance

Popular in the last century into this, has been the notion of the desirability of “variable resistance” throughout the full range of a muscle working in isolation -- but thinking that the importance must be in varying the resistance mechanically in some fashion -- rather than that it is the natural way the muscles work -- invariably, and one simply needs to allow it to work in that way.

Yet in the design of most exercise apparatus, it has regarded the body as something to be worked against rather than incorporating the genius of its natural design and millions of years of evolution. Variable resistance makes possible contraction as well as relaxation -- because it is that difference in change of state, that produces a favorable effect in performing work or ensuring the health of the body.

If the weight varies even without any movement producing it, allows for the possibility of relaxation and contraction, which produces a flow -- of circulation and respiration (fluid and gases). Meanwhile, a resistance that does not vary even throughout an obvious and extended movement, does not allow this same flow because the change in muscle tension does not vary.

When a person does a 200 lb. bench press (lying on their back), the bottom limit must be that the person must exert at least 200 lbs of pressure against the bar at all times -- or the bar will go through their chest and crush their spinal cord. However, to get a bar moving upward, requires just slightly more than 200 lbs of pressure -- but that difference is minimal compared to going from 0 to 220 lbs of pressure that a maximally variable apparatus would produce.

That’s the reason an exercise performed for at least 25 repetitions will cause a person to “fail” regardless of whether the weight is light or heavy -- because the entirety of that exercise, despite seeming to be done while breathing, is really being done anaerobically -- or with the person holding their breath, for all practical purposes. However, the interesting thing is that such a manner of performance is not producing true muscular failure -- but causes a cessation of effort because the flow to the head and brain is usually constricted during the performance, and that is the critical regulator of activity throughout the body.

If one goes to the gyms throughout the world and watches people training with weights, and is not distracted by the dramatic movements ostensibly being performed, and note carefully the increasing constriction (of blood flow) and distress registering at the neck and face, one will know what I am talking and understand why such activity is perceived by the brain, as something it doesn’t want to do -- and is disabling and dangerous to do.

It doesn’t have to be that way -- with the proper attention to what really is happening, and not simply, what one thinks is happening, or wishes is happening.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rhythmic Weight-training

Most people are familiar with “gymnastics” -- but much fewer people are aware of the newer form of “rhythmic gymnastics” -- which is a lot more aestethically pleasing, placing the greatest premium on hand-eye coordination above all else. One is not aware of the effort -- or the skill because the underlying objective, is to make it all seem effortless, and easy. But all the traditional underlying and supportive requirements for athletic performance and excellence are there.

Rather than their apparatus being the usual test of strength like the bars, vaults, and beams, they use hoops, ribbons and balls , which many traditionalists would claim as the reason for their immediate disqualification as a “real” athletic event, because the risk of great bodily harm with a miscalculation is not present -- as they think a true test of their athletic ability demands. Obviously this is the mindset that insists that today’s modern games should maintain the ancient reason for being ot these games for warlike purposes and conditioning -- and anything else is a waste of time and loss of purpose.

That might have been true if conditions remained that life was a daily struggle of each against everybody and everything else -- during one’s very short and brutal existence. But those are not the times and environment we live in -- which to optimize life now requires anyone to consider what kind of life they live and how they can optimize this life

Most people don’t have to haul "sixteen tons" of coal a day -- usually in a prematurely short life, dying of black lung disease. Or collapse dying after running a marathon. So an appropriate question is, “Fitness for what?”

I think the most intelligent answer to that question today, is to see how little one can do and still maintain progress and growth of a healthy human body. For many, that is thought to end as soon as one leaves high school, explaining that any lack of fitness is their “getting old” -- as soon as they leave their teen years. A few may even shake their heads approvingly in agreement -- as though the beginning of the end, commences as soon as there are not wardens to supervise and admonish them 24/7 to do the "right" things.

Maybe that was a requirement too, when most people were uneducated and didn’t know how to educate themselves. The lot of most people back then was simply to follow whatever orders they were given -- by somebody who presumably “knew better,” because they could speak in the secret language we recognize in every field as “the jargon” -- separating those who knew, from those who don’t.

Each field had their own experts -- and own rules, and never the twain should meet. But in a world of increasing exposure to many things, experience and existences begin to fall apart (disintegrate) without great unifying principles achieving integration of comprehension. Traditional weight-training has been distinctively brutish, aggravating and stressful -- without questioning the need to be that way. It can be one of the most graceful, effortless and extremely productive manners of conditioning because of its ability to create whatever movements one can imagine. The trick is to use as light a weight as possible to make the movement possible and easy -- rather than it is traditionally done, to make it onerous, difficult, dangerous and precarious, as a distinction of virtue.

The manner of using weights to move rhythmically, easily and effortlessly is so striking that most others, will stand around and watch because they’ve never seen anything like it before. The more they think about it, they will wonder why didn’t they think of it sooner?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Problem of Aging

The most revolutionary idea on exercise has its greatest impact on the elderly -- and that is that a person doesn’t need MORE exercise, but it is extremely critical for them to get a very little of the BEST exercise -- because their recovery ability is the limiting factor in decreasing supply. That means, obviously, that it takes more rest to recover from any expenditure of energy and effort -- and not that the more they expend, the more unlimited supply they will have. That doesn’t even happen for younger people -- but it is the prevalent thinking in most “expert” advice on exercise, because it is their wishful-thinking, and beyond that, they have no understanding of anything significant or relevant at all.

Given that kind of “advice,” most people of diminishing energy reserves and recovery ability, just instinctively conserve as much of their energy and resources as possible -- as their current norm for actual exercise behavior despite all the elaborate explanations of what people “ought” to be doing. The simple fact of the matter is that they won’t be doing it -- so one can be free to exercise their imagination to the wildest prescriptions for what people “ought” to be doing to maintain their health, because they won’t do it -- as their out. But these experts can always insist, if these instructions were actually followed, miracles would be achieved. However, the miracle would just be in doing the improbable. Everyone would be in terrific condition -- if they could fly.

So if one takes away one important concept in maintaining mastery over one’s movements over one’s entire lifetime -- especially during the critical later years at which one is disposed to doing nothing at all -- which becomes a pathology when one doesn’t show any signs of movement or responsiveness at all, fine motor control at the extremities of the head, hands and feet should be the obvious paramount focus, without the need for excessive gross motor movement that simply burns up energy and drains limited resources and precious recovery ability.

That is the message of declining health and abilities with increasing age: one has to move better and more efficiently -- and not MORE, inefficiently -- as is the objective of most conventional exercise classes, instruction and apparatus. That might be great for the promoters of such “products,” but from the end-users point of view, actually sets them back in their thinking for the necessary better way which age makes increasingly critical. At that point, most exercise regimens are just abandoned entirely -- not to be discussed ever again.

Even the most robust people in their younger years are subject to these fallacies of their own successful healthier years -- that it was a blessing merely of age rather than appropriate behaviors for their time, which change periodically, requiring a new adaptation. And that should be a major advantage of one’s conditioning -- to be able to change and adapt to whatever challenges present themselves, and not merely “force” the environment to conform and adapt to them -- which of course, is to be maladaptive, and lacking fitness to respond appropriately.

Fine motor control means maintaining these senses/movements that direct us to what is appropriate -- and lacking that sensitivity anymore, our movements are likely to be increasingly gross, clumsy, wasteful, brutish -- as many modern exercise classes “teach.”

Monday, September 03, 2007

Beyond Average

The exasperating as well as deceiving thing about the mass media reports on popular culture is that it is wholly concerned with the “average,” and not with the fullest range of human behaviors and possibilities -- which of course, deviate from the average substantially. If there are reports about the non-normal, it is invariably about the predictable dysfunctional deviations and not the exceptional, creative ones.

So in their world, there is the normal and the subnormal, and the supernormal does not exist -- because it would take an extraordinary person to see and recognize them, and all they can recognize, are the normal and the subnormal -- as the entirety of the world, and enforce that conformity as their own calling in the world. The media is not unique in that self-appointment, because teachers, union presidents, lawyers, politicians, judges, medical practitioners, and yes, fitness instructors practice that as their primary expression of power and identity in this world.

Rare are those who can simply live -- and let live, which is really the secret to a highly self-actualizing society -- in which every individual does not think that their primary task in life is to create and mold every other person into their own image, to live up to their expectations, to conform to their notions of right and wrong -- as though they knew better for everybody else, what that is.

That’s essentially what mass media and popular culture is all about -- convincing and getting people to do what everybody else is doing, as the highest right and value in society -- rather than discussing the range of that possibility, and allowing people to make up their own minds. And that is the most important expression of being a citizen in a free and democratic republic -- rather than the exclusive obsession of winning at any cost, as though that was all there was. There is no winning but how one plays the game.

Last week, with the passing of Arthur Jones, many consider the most influential thinker on the exercise scene since 1970, was a time for many involved and in touch with this individual to reflect on the power of such thinking -- to go beyond the average, certainly as an inspiring role model for those who want to find out what life and society beyond the “politically correct” reporting of it is.

Ultimately, I don’t think he was the last word in effective training principles, but I think he will continue to be a good first word for any aspiring student to begin their inquiries. And that is always the most important step of any pursuit -- that one is firmly grounded in testing reality, and not just provided a system and set of beliefs which should not and never be tested or challenged, because ultimatimately, that is what he, as any great teacher, wanted people to do -- put his ideas to the most rigorous test. Otherwise, that’s what conjectures are -- beliefs stated as a well-proven, unchallengeable fact that have never been understood and taken seriously enough to be tested to the limits at which they may fail. And that is the whole point of discovery. The objective is to go beyond.

But if one can recognize that primary distinction, then any teacher worthy of the name, doesn’t care that the student goes his own way and arrives at his own conclusions because he has used the proper methodology, and even questioned what the master (instructor) had not.

In Memoriam, Arthur Jones, 1926-2007.